Danny Villanueva Jr of How Bizarre Pictures: 5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me When I First Became A Filmmaker
Step out of your comfort zone. I would always create small projects that I was confident I could take on. I now try to be more ambitious, which always pays off in the end.
As a part of our series called “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me When I First Became A Filmmaker”, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Danny Villanueva Jr.
Danny Villanueva Jr. is a Mexican-American screenwriter/director born on April 6, 1989, in Chicago, IL. He studied Digital Filmmaking/Video Production at the Art Institute of Wisconsin in Milwaukee. In 2012, he launched a horror-themed web channel, How Bizarre, which featured short films, mini documentaries and bite-sized cartoons. In 2017, the channel evolved into an independent film production company, How Bizarre Pictures. “I Dream of a Psychopomp” is Villanueva’s feature-length directorial debut.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. Can you tell us a bit of the ‘backstory’ of how you grew up?
I was born and lived in the neighborhood of Archer Heights in Chicago, IL for 11 years before moving to Kenosha, WI where I’ve lived ever since. My grandparents adopted my siblings and I when I was 1-year-old and raised us. I grew up with a deep love for horror when my older sisters introduced me to the genre at an early age.
Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this specific career path?
I began using my Pa’s VHS camcorder to film skateboarding videos with my brother. This had taught me editing, composition, and the basics of filmmaking. As I grew older, I learned about what goes into the process of filmmaking on a professional level and became fascinated. From there, I took my craft seriously. I’ve always been drawn to wanting to tell scary stories and once I discovered filmmaking, I immediately knew that this was my medium.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that occurred to you in the course of your filmmaking career?
An interesting moment on set was when our actor, Peter Knox, who played a disturbed serial murderer Carl Crimwood in my debut feature-length film, “I Dream of a Psychopomp”, arrived on set in character. I remember him sitting alone quietly throughout the day, giving a ghastly glare to everyone on set. This was my first time meeting him in person, and I immediately assumed this was his personality. As the day progressed, he continued with his bizarre demeanor. It wasn’t until we wrapped for the day when suddenly I met the real Peter Knox, a kind, personable, and intelligent man who was nothing like the ghoul on set. It wasn’t until then that I realized he was a method actor. This was the first time I worked with someone who had this acting approach.
Who are some of the most interesting people you have interacted with? What was that like? Do you have any stories?
I find something interesting in everyone I come across. I have stories upon stories of unique experiences.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
My late mother, Lupe Villanueva, was such a significant support to me throughout the beginning of my filmmaking career. She gave me the freedom to be whoever I wanted to be and never suggested that my dream of making a career as an artist was far-fetched or unrealistic. She was selfless and would have done everything in her power to help in any way she could.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Happiness is not the absence of problems; it’s the ability to deal with them” -Steve Maraboli
For the longest time, I dealt with depression and believed that it would magically disappear if I could pay off debt or avoid another flat tire, but slowly learned that’s not the case. I needed to work on myself, the way I think and process the problems I face, in order to have a happier baseline.
I am very interested in diversity in the entertainment industry. Can you share three reasons with our readers about why you think it’s important to have diversity represented in film and television? How can that potentially affect our culture?
There is diversity all around us. People of different colors, culture, and sexual orientations are our family, our friends, our neighbors. There is no reason for anyone to be excluded from film and television. Those who are bigoted try to discredit productions that include diversity by claiming the creators are trying to be “woke” when instead what the creators are doing is being real. The fact that film and tv have been exclusive to one kind of color or sexual orientation is what’s unusual.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
I’m currently in pre-production for my sophomore feature-length film, a horror titled “What Happened to Dorothy Bell?” that shoots spring 2023.
Which aspect of your work makes you most proud? Can you explain or give a story?
I’m most proud when I see my team put out their best work and when those around recognize it.
Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
- Be patient. I thought this career would take off overnight, but eventually realized it’s a long game.
- Step out of your comfort zone. I would always create small projects that I was confident I could take on. I now try to be more ambitious, which always pays off in the end.
- Network. I was always introverted and afraid of meeting new people. I learned how important collaboration is and how vital it is in the film industry.
- You’re worthy. I’ve dealt with a lot of self-doubt throughout the years. I think a small amount is healthy, as long as it doesn’t push you to want to throw in the towel.
- Take breaks. Breaks are necessary to a healthy mind. Burn out is real.
When you create a film, which stakeholders have the greatest impact on the artistic and cinematic choices you make? Is it the viewers, the critics, the financiers, or your own personal artistic vision? Can you share a story with us or give an example about what you mean?
It always is myself. If it doesn’t come from my heart and isn’t driven by the need to explore my deepest personal questions, I won’t have the stamina to take on these yearlong projects.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 😊
I’d want to build a community of artists who share similar sensibilities and goals of telling untold stories that people desperately need to hear.
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this. 😊
I’d love to have a private meal with practically any of the directors or actors that I admire. I learn something from everyone I meet and in the case it’s someone experienced in the field, I’m sure it’d be like a masterclass. I greatly admire Guillermo Del Toro. We have similar tastes in film and I adore his sense of humor.
How can our readers further follow you online?
I’m on all the social medias as Danny Villanueva Jr. and my production company is on all of the social medias as How Bizarre Pictures.
This was very meaningful, thank you so much! We wish you continued success!